A coalition of Labour/Greens/Te Pāti Māori is a coalition of chaos, but so too is a coalition of National/Act/NZ First.
When in government, Winston Peters voted for every one of Grant Robertson’s Budgets. And Chris Hipkins and Peters never seemed to disagree until their recently discovered difference over who should use what toilet. That is not an issue the country worries about.
In contrast, David Seymour and Peters have disagreed about almost everything except that being Māori does not mean they should get privileges.
If National and Act do not get that 61st MP, it seems likely the country will be back at the polls.
Banal personal pledges will not win the vital 61st MP.
National’s pledges are a list of issues of concern: inflation, crime, health waiting times and falling education standards. Labour says they are its concerns, too. One policy they disagree on is National’s pledge to “let you keep more of what you earn”.
Labour’s five-point economic pledge looks as if it was written by an ad agency more used to selling soap. “Having a strong global reputation” and harnessing “digital creativity” is not an economic policy; those are just random buzzwords.
Hipkins’ nine pledges will be paid for by borrowing.
Both major parties are claiming they can spend less but continue all “front-line” services.
But the only way to curb government spending is to stop doing things. And only Act is promising to do that.
This election will come down to who we trust to run the economy.
We will make our judgment after two televised debates on TVNZ: the Leaders’ Debate next Tuesday at 7pm and the Multi-Party Debate on October 5. The other debates are either too late or will have too few viewers.
The Multi-Party Debate will be Seymour versus the rest. To get the hung Parliament that the other smaller party leaders want, they must attack Act. Peters will scratch every grievance; James Shaw will assure us the rich will pay; Rawiri Waititi will seek to shock.
It will be tough for Seymour to put the case for fiscal prudence.
While the Multi-Party Debate could result in the third-party vote increasing, the Greens and Act are largely cancelling each other out.
The first debate between Hipkins and Christopher Luxon promises to be the most-watched campaign event.
Since the first US presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon, leaders’ debates have shown they can be decisive. Jacinda Ardern beat Bill English in their first debate. His victory in the second was too late.
When it comes to debating, Hipkins must be the favourite.
Reading the Hansard record of the final Parliamentary debate, both leaders gave good speeches. But watching the debate on TV, Hipkins’ delivery made his speech superior.
Luxon has only been in Parliament for less than three years - and it shows. He speaks too fast, does not modulate his voice, has not mastered the pause and cannot tell a joke. In a short speech, he said “I have to tell you”, or words to that effect, 29 times. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln never said “I”.
Hipkins is a professional politician who has been debating since he was a student politician. It is an art that takes years to master.
National’s campaign strategists must cancel all of Luxon’s campaign appearances and put him through a rigorous debate prep boot camp.
Do not turn up, as Judith Collins and Ardern did, not knowing the price of milk.
In a debate, you suffer a knockout loss only when you do not prepare or wander off your data and make statements that your opponent can demonstrate are false.
Labour is running a presidential-style campaign built around Hipkins, with slogans instead of policy solutions. In May, when the key campaign strategy decisions were being made, it would have seemed like a winning strategy. Back then, Hipkins was riding high in the polls.
But now, Hipkins’ popularity is in freefall. The two Chrises are within the margin of error from each other, and neither is high in the popularity stakes.
A less popular Opposition leader can win, but no government is re-elected without a popular prime minister.
Now it is too late for Labour to change strategy. Hipkins must win the Leaders’ Debate by a knockout. If he does so, National/Act will fall short.
But if Luxon can put up a credible performance, he will demonstrate that he is ready to be Prime Minister, and that will be enough to win that 61st MP.
Next Tuesday, should Luxon surprise us and be judged the winner, he will achieve a landslide election victory.
Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and a former member of the Labour Party.